- The Stormers hosted an in-house training match at Newlands on Friday.
- There was Springbok star power on display in the form of captain Siya Kolisi and the fit-again Steven Kitshoff.
- Stormers coach John Dobson believes it will be tough to send a Springbok side to the Rugby Championship later this year.
When the Stormers played an in-house training match at an empty Newlands on Friday, it didn't take long to realise how much these players had missed competitive rugby.
The hits were fierce and every penalty or turnover won was greeted by passionate celebration, and while it was the Boulder Beach Pelicans who emerged as 21-12 winners over the Devils Peak Dassies, the result did not matter.
It has been nearly six months since Super Rugby was suspended because of the coronavirus crisis, and this was just a taste of what these players had been craving.
Springbok captain Siya Kolisi got through around 35 minutes before he was removed shortly before the end of the second of three 'chukkas'.
Kolisi has not played since February, when he injured his knee against the Hurricanes. Steven Kitshoff, too, enjoyed a relatively lengthy run as he completes his comeback from a pectoral injury.
As pleasing as it was to see the Stormers - many of them Springboks - in action once again, the exercise was also a stark reminder of how much work lies ahead before these players will be operating at optimum level.
With a unique domestic competition set to get underway on October 10, and with a Super Rugby warm-up match and then a Springbok trial match on the cards for the two weekends leading up to the start of that competition, sending the Springboks to the Rugby Championship is looking an increasingly tall order.
The economic injection into SA Rugby's coffers is obviously appealing, but the Rugby Championship starts in Australia on November 7 and there is surely not enough time for the Boks to get themselves genuinely prepared and competitive.
The All Blacks and Wallabies have both had full domestic seasons, while the Boks and Kolisi are only now easing their way back into things.
"With anything in the context of these questions, there is a greater good, whether that's from an economic point of view or for the good of the rugby ecosystem," Stormers coach John Dobson said at Newlands on Friday.
"When Super Rugby AU started, you wouldn't need sleeping pills [to fall asleep watching it] ... but by the time it finished, if you watched the Reds and the Rebels last week, I thought it was outstanding and it could have been out of Super Rugby Aotearoa. It was that good, but it took eight or nine weeks to get to that level.
"We've got a lot of guys who theoretically might go to Rugby Championship, and let's say we do have a bye in that first weekend, they could have one game. It's going to be a massive challenge for Jacques [Nienaber, head coach] and the Springboks."
Dobson was pleased to see Kolisi in action, but he acknowledged that the 2019 Rugby World Cup hero still had a long road ahead of him.
"To be fair to Siya, this was his first game since February 1 ... almost eight months," he said.
"It was great to have him on the field, but if it's been eight months and then he has a couple of games ... it's going to be tough."
The Stormers are expected to have a bye when the Super Rugby Unloaded product starts on October 10.
"It gives us a chance to see the other teams and if we get any niggles it gives us a chance to recover," said Dobson.
"It's not ideal for the other teams to go from the Fan Day to the North v South match where you're not going to have your players for the week and then straight into your first game.
"We'll have two weeks to re-integrate our players, because we're certainly going to get cleaned out.
"That extra week will probably be to our benefit, to see the laws and then also get our guys back together. I think any coach would find it disruptive to have the Super Rugby day then hand your players over for a week and then get them back and have to prep them again."